I’ve Been Thinking A Lot About Clowns

Not circus clowns, or their gleeful appropriations in the horror industry and comic books. Instead, I’ve been thinking about the French clowning techniques I learned in acting conservatory based on the teachings of Jacques Lecoq (pronounced “Le Cock”, yes I know…), and even more specifically, about my own experience with clowning.

The assignment at the end of first semester of my junior year was to go home over winter break and gather a garbage bag full of old clothes. They didn’t have to be ours. When we returned for second semester, everyone in the class emptied their bags in the middle of the stage into one big pile. Then we were told to pick out some clothes for ourself from the pile. We were encouraged to dress as ridiculously as possible, like children sneaking into their parent’s closet to play dress-up. Once we had our “costume”, we were each given a red nose and told to experiment with the movement and voice that both the red nose and the clothing suggested. We did this for quite a while, milling around the stage, talking to ourselves or others as we skipped, ran, stumbled or hopped around. I’m sure an uninformed observer would have thought we were all insane (and perhaps an informed one as well).

The clown that emerged from me was odd. I can’t for the life of me remember what he wore, but he was quite young, very sweet, and for the most part rather shy. Bashful might be a good word to describe him. Like the skunk from Bambi. Except every once in a while, when someone did or said something that excited him, he would explode into a loud and raucous mirth that even other clowns found jarring.

We worked on our clowns for weeks, fine tuning their voices and behaviors. Frankly, I didn’t like my clown very much, but once I put on that red nose, it was difficult, if not impossible, to steer him in another direction. It’s the same resistance I’ve found as a writer when I try to get a character to move the plot forward in a way that their personality isn’t suited to do. Such efforts always backfire. So after several clumsy attempts to change things, I gave in and let my weirdo, adorable yet abrasive, social yet awkward clown just be himself.

At the end of the course, our instructor spoke of how our clown is often a manifestation of some aspect of ourselves we find uncomfortable, and that drawing it out and making it larger than life can be tremendously instructive, if not downright therapeutic. At the time I was quite certain I didn’t fit that process at all. I felt certain that I was nothing like my clown, and that somewhere along the way, most likely due to my own incompetence, I had done clowning wrong.

That was about twenty years ago, and there are two points I would like to make to my younger self:

  1. It is next to impossible to “do clowning wrong”. They are creatures of chaos and transgression, and therefore any perceived “mistakes” only fuel them.
  2. If you don’t think that adorable but annoying little clown isn’t inside you, you’re kidding yourself.

Now, as I struggle to find a way to fulfill the expectations of both publisher and readers and find meaningful ways to interact in social media, I think a lot about that clown, and what he would do. Nothing helpful or productive, I’m sure. And yet, I suspect there is some aspect to explore that may be instructive for me, if not downright therapeutic.

They Tell Me Balance Is Good

I was totally focused on research when my revision notes for Blood and Tempest, book three of the Empire of Storms arrived and consumed my life for several weeks. This blog, which I’ll be honest I created as a means of distracting myself while I waited for those revision notes, was the first thing to get dropped. Now, with a few days to spare, the revisions are (I think?) done, at least for this round. Hopefully there will be more rounds, but sometimes production schedules don’t allow it. Once I turn it in, I may not get another crack at it until copyedits, and then major changes are usually discouraged. Not that I anticipate major changes, but it’s always nice to have the option.

Anyway, after futzing with a short piece and sending it off to a friend to look at, I turned my attention again to research on the new project that may or may not see the light of day. While reading the story “Green Tea” in the collection In A Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu, I came across this quote:

”There was nothing to be gathered from her letter, more than that he was low and nervous. In those words, of which healthy people think so lightly, what a world of suffering is sometimes hidden!”

Low and nervous. Sounds about right.

Writing While Sick

On the whole, it probably isn’t a great idea to push yourself to keep writing while you’re sick. But during the revision process, I find it puts me in a particularly merciless mood that makes me less precious with all my favorite little bits, most of which should probably be cut in service to the story.

Writing Destroys the World

“Writing, as creative, remakes the world and leaves nothing untouched or standing in place: in order to create, writing destroys the world.”

Dante and the Sense of Transgression by William Franke

My Pirate Ramen Recipe

Fellow author Fran Wilde invited me to participate in the “Book Bites” series on her blog, where authors can share recipes related to their books. My recipe is loosely based on a traditional shoyu ramen recipe. I’ve been making variations on this dish for the past year or so and have tweaked it extensively to work better in my tastes, budget, and dietary needs. So I’ve decided to call it:

Pirate Ramen!

Eligible for Decapitation

“Dante’s children had led an inevitably precarious life since their father was sent into exile. Their inclusion in the new decree meant, among other things, that all three were at least fifteen years old, this being the age at which males became eligible for decapitation.”

– From Dante, A Life by R. W. B. Lewis

Switching Gears

I’ve always felt like I have two modes: input mode and output mode. In output mode, I write. A lot. Like all the time, compulsively. Even if it’s not any good. It’s like a firehose. During that time, I don’t actually read a lot, or consume much media of any kind, really. TV, film, comics—none of it holds my attention for long because the urge to write is simply louder than anything else.

Then there are periods were the whole thing flips and I become so hungry for story and information that hours of reading and watching and listening seem to fall into a bottomless hole. It’s never enough. I never feel sated. During that time, even short periods of writing (like this blog post) feel laborious.

Sometimes I think I should try to find a way to balance these two things out more. Maybe I will eventually. But not today.

Today I can feel those gears shifting inside me in the same way I can see Winter shifting to Spring. I’m in the revision stage of Blood and Tempest, the third book in the Empire of Storms trilogy. We sold the first book, Hope and Red about two years ago and my editor at the time set an incredibly intense release schedule of 9 months apart. So far we’ve managed to keep up with that, and I’m petty sure we’ll be able to do it for this last book, too. But what that’s meant is that I’ve been stuck on almost perpetual output mode for the last two years, give or take a couple months here and there while waiting for revision notes. I also wrote a short story for Stephanie Perkin’s Summer Days and Summer Nights anthology somewhere in there. So a lot of output these last two years.

But now that the trilogy is winding down, it’s time to start considering what comes next. And with that comes a great deal of research. Deep, strange, unsettling research. And I find that I’m relieved.

Incidentally, the picture of those flowers comes from my “garden”. I loathe gardening and have no idea why these damn things come back every year. Maybe just to irritate me.